Chapter 14: Love
Thus far in the book, Zora has spoken little of romantic love. In this chapter, she journeys backward to revisit the details of two significant love interests in her life. The details are sparse; as Zora says, “Ladies do not kiss and tell any more than gentlemen do.”
Zora’s first significant love affair was with a man at Barnard, whom she married after graduation. On the day of the wedding, doubts about the legitimacy of her feelings engulfed her. The marriage quietly dissolved, with Zora heading back to New York to conduct more research and her first husband heading to Chicago to pursue his interests.
After that failed attempt at marriage, Zora zeroed in on her work. “Work was to be all of me,” she says. However, another romantic love—one far more significant than the first—found her three years later. Zora calls him A.W.P., and she says, “I did not just fall in love. I made a parachute jump.”
Both Zora and A.W.P. were headstrong people. Both struggled with feelings of insecurity and jealousy that led to many conflicts. “He begged me to give up my career, marry him, and live outside of New York City,” she recalls, but Zora was not the type to give up her intellectual pursuits. They split several times but always reunited. Zora muses, “The terrible thing was that we could neither leave each other alone, nor compromise.” At the writing of this book, the outcome of their love story appears unknown. She writes, “What will be the end? That is not for me to know.”
She hints at other affairs, none of which had permanence. It was easy for her to maintain friendship with ex-lovers, but it wasn’t always easy for the men, so she often feigned heartbreak in order to preserve the man’s dignity. The strategy worked for Zora because such a man would then depart the relationship “with a sort of twilight tenderness for me, wondering what it is that he’s got that brings so many women down!”
Chapter 15: Religion
As the daughter of a preacher, Zora grew up immersed in the church. “You wouldn’t think that a person who was born with God in the house would ever have any questions to ask on the subject,” she says. Privately, however, she questioned everything.
Zora revelled in the “action” of the church, from the baptisms to the revival meetings. The dramatic depictions of heaven and hell that rang out from her father’s pulpit appealed to her storyteller’s mind. She hid her doubts from her father and the other elders, but internally, she grew her own opinions. Prayer, for example, was a “cry of weakness” to Zora, and she did not want to be weak.
The religious questions abated during Zora’s adolescence, but they reemerged as she delved into her philosophy and history studies in college. After much soul-searching, she finally made some peace with religion, but the questioning part of her was never fully satisfied. “Seeking after the inner heart of truth will never cease in me,” she says.
Regarding death, Zora asks, “Why fear?” This is a rhetorical question meant to express her confidence in what happens after death. Although she questions religion, she believes in the existence of an afterlife of some kind. “When the consciousness we know as life ceases, I know that I shall still be part and parcel of the world,” she says. She closes her chapter on religion by summarizing her beliefs this way: “I am one with the infinite and need no other assurance.”
Chapter 16: Looking Things Over
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back on the events of her life thus far and acknowledges some suffering: “I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots.” Although there has been pain, she explains that she does not dwell on it. Bitterness, she says, is “the underarm odor of wishful weakness.”
In that same vein, Zora says her “glory-moments” have not inflated her ego. She stays humble, remembering that she is just a small part of the universe and there are many others who are “masterpieces” made by God.
She imagines one day meeting the grandson of the people who owned her ancestors as slaves. She intuits what he would say and how he would feel. He would claim his innocence, and she would agree with him. “I have no intention of wasting my time beating old graves with a club,” Zora says. For her, it is best to make peace with that which she cannot change.
As a woman who grew up in racist times, Zora says she harbors neither prejudice nor anger toward anyone. Learning about and understanding others has been her life’s work, and all people stand as equals in her eyes. She concludes her autobiography by offering readers her “right hand of fellowship and love.” Tolerance and patience are virtues to be extolled, and these are important life lessons she has learned.